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Usdan gala for arts summer campers

Adam Glaser with the senior orchestra at last

Adam Glaser with the senior orchestra at last year's Usdan gala concert. Glaser conducts this summer's gala Aug. 3, 2011, at the amphitheater on the Wheatley Heights campus. Photo Credit: Pedro Sousa

The Usdan Center celebrates 44 summers as Long Island's leading day camp for the arts with its annual gala Wednesday night, featuring a big-band jazz world premiere.

Arranger-composer Richard DeRosa's "It Takes Two to Samba" was commissioned by Usdan, which received a two-year Sustaining American Jazz grant. Parents get a sneak preview of some of the student talent on display at the gala with a concert Friday at the Wheatley Heights campus as the jazz and tap-dance ensembles perform.

Usdan is open to school-age kids ages 6 to 18.

IMPROVISATIONAL SUMMER Among the artists who played for Usdan students this summer are jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath and the Heath Brothers Quartet, Latin jazz pianist-composer Arturo O'Farrill and jazz singer Jane Monheit.

"My summers at Usdan were a major turning point in my youth," recalls Monheit, who grew up in Oakdale. "I didn't just receive a wonderful education there, I found a place to fit in. . . . It was a haven for a different kid like me. I learned there that anything was possible, and that the world was open to me."

Other famous Usdan alums include Natalie Portman and Mariah Carey.

"We're seeking to increase kids' exposure to jazz -- not just here but in public schools," says Dale Lewis, director of Usdan. The new piece by

DeRosa, who has arranged for Wynton Marsalis and other top jazz artists, was written for ensembles of 20 or more. "We wanted a piece that would be accessible to student players and listeners alike. It's our intention that high schools will give the subsequent performances to our premiere."

ECLECTIC DISCIPLINES The Usdan Center for the Creative & Performing Arts, as its name suggests, is about far more that jazz. The senior choir and concert band will perform "The Last Words of David," by Randall Thompson, based on a New Testament theme. The gala evening closes with a production of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," with the senior orchestra, conducted by Adam Glaser, plus chorus and ballet. The cantata features guest soloists Monica Yunus, a Metropolitan Opera soprano, and Ashley Tuttle, a Usdan guest teacher, former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, Tony nominee for Broadway's "Movin' Out" and, more recently, "Fly Away."

"We rely on donors to provide scholarships," Lewis says. He says the need for scholarships -- although the camp costs a relatively modest $3,100 for seven weeks -- has doubled during this economic downturn, to $1.2 million.

WHAT Usdan gala concert

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Wednesday, preceded by a dinner at 5, McKinley Amphitheater, Usdan Center, 185 Colonial Springs Rd., Wheatley Heights

INFO $25 for concert, $150 for dinner, priority parking and reserved concert seating; usdan.com, 631-643-7900

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